Almost all music schools admit instrumentalists and vocalists through a live audition process during which all applicants perform for a panel of judges. The panel is usually composed of faculty members for the student’s instrument and sometimes department chairs. For undergraduate admissions, live auditions usually take place between January and March of a student’s senior year, with admissions results and studio placements announced no later than April. The live audition is usually the only opportunity a student has to demonstrate their abilities in front of a school’s teachers before receiving an admissions decision.
While audition requirements vary widely by school, the audition format remains the same. Applicants are called into the audition room one by one, where they introduce themselves to the audition panel and then perform. Given the number of students who audition every year, each audition typically lasts no more than ten minutes. This means students are not able to play everything they have prepared — the panel selects pieces from the audition repertoire list on the spot for the applicant to play.
The quantity of music students need to master and the audition’s high stakes render the process both time-consuming to prepare for and stressful to undertake. Here are our top tips for students expecting to undergo the live audition process:
Start preparing early
Whether it’s college applications or music school auditions, the most important advice anyone can give you is to start early. Schools generally keep application requirements and audition repertoire lists updated all year long, so you can start preparing a year in advance if you want to. Because different schools have different repertoire requirements, it’s important to identify which pieces you already know well and which you still need to learn, as well as keep track of which schools’ requirements overlap. The more schools you plan to audition for, the more music you will have to prepare. We recommend starting to learn audition repertoire a year ahead of your auditions. This will give you an ample amount of time to learn new repertoire, polish your pieces inside and out with your private teacher, and rehearse with collaborative pianists as depending on your instrument, some schools may require you to play with a pianist during your audition.
Run mock auditions
Auditions are highly stressful for musicians no matter what stage of their career they are in. To counter this stress, it’s very important to get used to the process of auditioning through mock auditions. Have your teacher or your friends sit behind a table and pick out audition pieces for you to play on the spot. Keep in mind that at your actual audition, the audition begins as soon as the doors open — practice your walk into the room, your bow, the way you will introduce yourself to the audition panel, and even wear the clothes you plan on wearing to the audition. Some students choose to do high-intensity workouts before their mock auditions in order to simulate the higher heart rate one might experience during an audition. No matter what your mock audition process is, make sure to start early and repeat it often.
Be smart about practicing
Smart practicing is a skill that musicians must develop and hone throughout their careers, and there’s no better time to develop good practicing habits than in high school. While you may have heard the common adage “practice makes perfect,” this only holds true assuming you practice correctly and efficiently. The need to practice is yet another reason to start preparing early — cramming last-minute practice is not only as ineffective as cramming for an academic test, but potentially even dangerous. Students who try to perfect difficult passages through hours-long, repetitive drilling usually do not achieve any marked improvements and instead may risk overuse injuries, which can be career-ending in the long term. While you can never over-prepare for an audition, it is entirely possible to over-practice. Preparing early will help you identify issues early on and ensure that you will have enough time to improve them little by little.
Expect the unexpected
While students can minimize the amount of variables contributing to stress in the audition process, there are many unexpected things that may come up. Due to the COVID pandemic, many music schools now offer both in-person and virtual auditions, but with the easing of many restrictions, it is generally expected that students try their best to make it to live auditions. This may require you and your parents to travel far from where you live and sometimes even abroad. You should do your best to prepare for unforeseen circumstances, such as your luggage getting lost in transit and instruments adjusting to different climates or needing repair. Depending on the instrument you play, you should bring backup bows and strings, a set of reeds, and photocopies and digital backups of your music.
On the day of the audition, be prepared to be herded back and forth between the sign-in desk, warm-up rooms, and the live audition rooms, and expect delays and schedule changes. In the audition room, prepare to be cut off by the panel, asked to skip sections or repeat pieces, and asked questions about why you’re auditioning and what your goals are — they’re just trying to gauge how you will fit in as a student at the school.
Everyone wants you to succeed
In our experience, there is always a gap between what students think schools are looking for and what the schools are actually looking for. A main source of anxiety for students undertaking the audition process is the idea that the audition panel will try to find every little mistake in their playing and reasons to reject them. This is almost never the case — you should find relief and empowerment in knowing that everyone involved in the process wants you to succeed. Teachers understand the stress that every student is under and are eager to find students in the applicant pool who have great potential and can benefit from studying under them. Admissions departments want to fill their schools with students who will bring something unique to the incoming class. With this in mind, you can go into the audition process with a positive mindset!